Adventures written by the VAMONDE Team
From 1910 until about 1960, Cleveland was one of the final destinations for the six million black people leaving the rural south to build better lives and more opportunities for themselves. Cleveland was home to a very strong white abolitionist community, and it was more welcoming than some of the other, less hospitable areas within the free states north of the Ohio River. This period of history, marked by the northward exodus away from violence and bondage, has become known as the Great Migration.
Many of the migrants were single young men searching for employment. However, entire families also arrived, as did single young women who desired to train and become nurses. Although Cleveland’s climate was less hostile than other urban and rural areas, black people were still not exactly welcomed into white neighborhoods and spaces. The city's growing industry needed laborers, but it was not prepared to offer housing for such a large influx of people. Cleveland’s population grew 60 percent between 1910 and 1930 alone. This population increase led to the discriminatory housing policies initiated after WWI and what is now termed, White Flight.
Before WWI, as the population in Cleveland grew, several white activists and black business owners stepped forward to mitigate the housing shortage. The Majestic Hotel was the largest black owned-and-operated hotel in the city, which bordered the black neighborhood of Cedar-Central, current-day Fairfax. Many of the single men lived in the Majestic Hotel while they found work. The Majestic Hotel is largely gone, but it stood at the corner of E 55th and Central Avenue. Ms. Jane Edna Hunter, a black social worker, was concerned about the single young women arriving in the city who were not able to stay at the Young Women's' Christian Association (YWCA) because of discrimination. She founded the Working Girls Association to provide safe lodging and a training program that empowered the women to build their lives.
The Working Girls Association became the Phillis Wheatley Association, named after a former slave who became a Boston-area poet. It operated out of a building at 4450 Cedar Avenue, now called the Emeritus House. These significant historical sites are worth visiting. They serve as a reminder that the history is not so far in the past.
Cover image: A drinking fountain labeled "Colored" at the Halifax County Courthouse in 1938 via WikiMedia Commons.